November 12, 2012 by catherinecoughlin
Food Marketing. If you’ve ever watched TV you know that food marketing comprises quite a bit of airtime. But good news! Unhealthy food and beverage advertisements geared towards adolescents have fallen in the past ten years! Fallen all the way down to a whopping 86% (from 94%) of all food-related television advertisements being for products high in saturated fat, sugar, or sodium (4). Encouraging? Not so much. I do not have children but I can just imagine how this type of food-marketing saturation plays out in the grocery stores…And it brings up the justified concern over whether this type of food marketing is correlated to the childhood obesity epidemic. For this reason, food marketing regulations are currently under debate.
On one side of the argument, representing “team health,” is the administration whose stated goal is to combat childhood obesity. Children are inexplicably a more vulnerable population compared to other age groups thus extensive marketing campaigns such as those that can able carried out by major food producers are effective at influencing their target population. As stated in a 2008 FTC study on food marketing, $113 million (or approximately 70% of all food marketing directed at children 12 and under) fell under three categories that do not exactly constitute the healthy end of the spectrum. Restaurant food, primarily fast food children’s meals, accounted for $521 million in marketing expenditures, $229 million was spent on breakfast cereal, and $113 million was spend on snack foods such as chips, cookies, and processed fruit snacks (2). Again, these marketing campaigns were directed at children under 12.
The industry claims that the proposed (voluntary, I might add) initiative to regulate food marketing to children and adolescents is a “backdoor regulation” that will not only result in a huge loss of profit due to the near elimination of advertising to children, but opponents capitalize on the current economic situation and cite the potential elimination of millions of jobs with the passage of this initiative. One non-supporter of the bill worries “that restrictions could cut jobs” in an already unstable environment (1). Critics of the plan have been pushing for regulators to consider what it would cost to reformulate the products under the proposal. They also say the administration has failed to make a direct link between the marketing of products and childhood obesity (1). Industry has also claimed that food-marketing restriction is an infringement on commercial free speech (1).
We live in a capitalist society so there will always be a financial two sides to any argument, and industry (the opponents in this case), do bring up some valid concerns. Maybe instead of splitting hairs over what and how to regulate marketing of unhealthy foods, we impose stipulations on advertisers that for every given number of unhealthy advertisements they run, they must market a healthier product, such as baby carrots, apple slices, grapes, or plain, lowfat milk. And no, “Who-Nu Cookies” do not constitute a healthier product.
1. ElBoghdady, Dina. “Lawmakers want cost-benefit-analyses on child food marketing restrictions,” The Washington Post.
2. Federal Trade Commission Report: Interagency Working Group Proposal on Food Marketing to Children
3. Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative (since 2006)
4. Lisa Powell, Rebecca Schermbeck, Glen Szczypka, Frank Chaloupka, Carol Braunschweig. (Dec 2011). “Trends in the Nutritional Content of TV Food Advertisements Seen by Children in the US,” Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2011;165(12):1078-1086